Tuesday, June 24, 2014

And then there were 15...

Originally the idea behind the Common Core curriculum was to establish some sort of national baseline for curriculum so that all states would in essence march to the same drummer.  The idea for Common Core came from the governors of the individual states.   It has never been a federal mandated program.
Next came the idea to assess whether or not students had mastered the skill set of Common Core.  In Maryland Common Core has gotten such a bad reputation that administrators took the label off the can and changed it to College and Career Readiness.   Please note we are still sticking with the CC :)
It didn't take long for the idea of a common assessment to fall away.  Most of the west coast states and the northern tier went with a group called Smarter Balance Consortium.   There are 22 states in that collection.  Some of the New England and Great Lake states went with a consortium known as PARCC, Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.  One state, Pennsylvania, uses both.  Not sure how that is going to work out.
States have been dropping out of PARCC on a consistent basis.  The latest to go is Tennessee.  Its legislature didn't exactly drop PARCC, it just decreed that Tennessee would stay with its own state assessments.  With Tennessee dropping out PARCC is down to 14 states and the District of Columbia.
Fifteen of these United States are choosing none of the above.  The tests are not supposed to be widely used until the 2014-15 school year.   However, this past school year has been the pilot year and there were a number of issues that turned up.
There are multiple reasons advanced for the various state behaviors.   Some states are insisting that they do not want to spend the money on the consortia assessments.  This approach totally ignores the economies of scale that are clear in the group development.   Others are saying that states like Tennessee will be embarrassed when their students are compared to students in Maryland and Massachusetts whose school systems are routinely highly ranked in the country.
All of this begs the question:   Do these assessments, state developed or consortia developed truly measure learning?   That is the big question and so far no one has answered it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Tenure: Love it or Leave it

Depending on whom you ask, tenure is either saving the teaching field or killing it.   A California court has just ruled that the California tenure law is unconstitutional because it deprives children of good teachers.  Personally I think tenure has lived a good long life and now it is time for it to slip peacefully into its grave.
First, some history.  Tenure came at a time when teachers were hired and fired based on lots of things, many of them having nothing to do with the ability to help children learn.   A teacher could be hired because the right political party was in local power and a contribution had been made to the winning candidate.  A teacher could be hired because she (and almost always a woman) belonged to the right church or had "good" family background.  Likewise, teachers could be fired for being in the "family way" or even just getting married.  If the parties switched control teachers would be fired.  If a teacher taught a lesson that was thought to be against the mores of that community, out she went.  So teachers needed the protection of tenure to make sure their jobs were not sustained by the whims of those currently in power.
Fast forward to today.  Between tenure and the teachers' unions it is almost impossible to terminate a teacher.  The procedures are long and arduous and if even one step is skipped, administrators must go back to step one.  Add to that the fact that a teacher can request a transfer to another principal who might not be as methodical in following all the steps.  I could tell you some stories of tenured teachers that would make your taxpayer dollars curl up into a crumbled ball, yet on they stay, getting raises year after year for just living and breathing.  Teacher quality has no current place in teacher salary.  Tenure protects the good teachers and the bad teachers.  But let's be honest, there is a shortage of good teachers and there are very few great teachers- these people hardly need protection.
There is no longer any issue of firing someone because of marriage, religion, pregnancy or even in most places sexual orientation.  We don't need to worry about teaching blasphemous curriculum or protecting academic freedom because curriculum is so controlled in public schools teachers complain about how few choices they do have.  Did anyone say Common Core.
So what is the remaining purpose of tenure today?  Simply to protect the weakest links from being removed from the teaching force.  Somewhere along the line we have totally lost sight of the purpose of schools and teaching.  It is for children to learn.  Clearly children learn better with good teachers. It is unconscionable that we are using tenure to protect the weakest teachers while sacrificing children's learning.
I am sure the teacher unions have other reasons for tenure, I just can't think of them

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

What really counts in student achievement

School systems have struggled for ages on how to get kids to achieve more in school.   Excessive absenteeism, failure to learn to read at an early age and teen pregnancy have all ranked right at the top.   Now that these issues are being addressed in a strong manner, why is it that some kids are still not achieving.
Turns out that the most common reason for dropping out of school is that kids are just not motivated to stay.  The question of what drives one student to stick out the 4 years of high school while another equally talented kid does not has just seemed really elusive.
Education Week did a survey of teachers and school-based administrators as to what they thought was the difference between those who graduate and those who quit.  Overwhelmingly, the respondents felt that student engagement and motivation were the key reasons students stayed to graduate.  Teacher quality and school climate were second and third respectively.  Family background came in dead last.
So the question remains what do schools do to create that motivation and engagement.  Once we acknowledge that they are partly wired into the human DNA at creation, how do we as educators manage the areas we can influence.
It would seem to me that this current drumbeat on test scores and the heavy emphasis on reading and math is going to beat the joy out of kids whose reason for being in school is something other than academic achievement.   If we take away sports, performing arts, studio art, and other hands on activities we have taken away the "carrot" and schools are left with only the stick to beat in academic skills.  Once students reach the quitting age they can get away from that stick.
We need to return to the time when comprehensive schools really meant comprehensive.   We need to motivate kids with many thing and understand that each of us are drawn to different thing.  Then we will get the motivation and engagement we need to make kids stick around to complete their high school education.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

What happens after graduation

It is the season for graduation.  All over the country we are launching our kids out into the big wide world.  What happens then?
Well if you are a person on the autism spectrum (ASD) your hopes don't look quite as high.  In fact, recent studies show that 35% of people with autism are just sitting at home.  Not employed, not attending post-secondary education- just sitting at home.
Why is that since a majority of people on the spectrum are high functioning and should be able to handle college and/or a job.  I think there are several reasons.
One of the most defining elements of people with autism is lack of social skills.  Whereas the majority of people pick up social skills by watching the habits of others, people with autism do not.  So they may have difficulty sticking with a conversation and interjecting their own topic that has nothing to do with what is being discussed.  They often appear to be very self-centered, having a great deal of difficulty taking another's perspective.  Their idea of person space can get confused causing them to stand too close to the person with whom they are speaking.  All of these deficits need to be overcome if they are to successfully move into a work place.
Another reason I believe they are underemployed is the failure to capitalize on a special interest.  Many people with ASD have a particular interest.   Sometimes it is very difficult to get them to move off the topic to discuss anything else.  But that special interest can often be a pathway to a job.  And it will be a job about which they are passionate.  Too much energy is spent getting the individual to move past the special interest rather than capitalizing on it.
Failure to look at the benefits of having autism and matching those benefits to the job at hand.  People with autism do better in a work environment that does not demand a great deal of sociability.  As noted above they are weak in social skills.  People with ASD may also appear rigid and in some ways they are.  Being rigid about doing something the same way all the time can be a work benefit if a proper match has been made between job requirements and personal skills.
A good transition program in high school is critical to the post secondary success of a person with autism.  Too often this program is not available to students in the public schools.   There is a one size fits all approach and if the student gets admitted to a college, then everyone seems to be content that the job has been done.  This is not so and the same problems that existed in high school pop up again in 4-5 years or sooner than that if the student drops out of college.
Families must work VERY hard to get that transition program and to make sure that the skill deficits of a child with autism are addressed before the entitlement to a free and appropriate education expires.